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No closure for Komapes

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The toilet was dilapidated and Michael fell into the pit below and drowned in human waste with all his dignity stripped

Michael Komape

IT IS disappointing that the family of a five-year-old Polokwane, Limpopo, pupil who drowned in a pit latrine has lost their case against the minister of Basic Education over the child’s death.

The family of Michael Komape – whose name has become synonymous with the struggle for children around the country for sanitation and safe schools – has lost its claim for general and constitutional damages for the death of their son.

It was on January 20, 2014, during break time, that the Grade R pupil went to use the pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School in Chebeng Village.

The toilet was dilapidated and Michael fell into the pit below and drowned in human waste with all his dignity stripped.

It was his third day at school.

The family sued for more than R2 million for special and constitutional damages, funeral costs and loss of income for Michael’s mother, Rosina Komape, who lost her job as a domestic worker soon after the death of her son.

It transpired that the school headmaster had written numerous letters to the Limpopo Department of Education asking for new toilets to be built for safety reasons.

The principal received no response to his pleas.

On November 13, 2017 the hearing began in the Polokwane High Court, running for three weeks before concluding on February 2, 2018.

Yesterday morning, Judge Gerrit Muller dismissed the Komapes’ main claim, but ordered that two of Michael’s siblings be paid
R6 000 each for general medical expenses.

Judge Muller also ordered a structural interdict to supply and install toilets that are safe and secure in rural schools in the province.

The undignified, horrific death of five-year-old Michael should have been a strident wake-up call for those who are tasked with ensuring the safety of our children in schools. Yet in a tragic, ironic twist, an almost identical incident happened last month when five-year-old Grade R pupil, Lumka Mketwa, died in a pit toilet at Luna Primary School in Bizana in the Eastern Cape.

The only hope now is that the Basic Education minister will comply with an order from President Cyril Ramaphosa to conduct an audit of schools without adequate ablution facilities, and to put in place an emergency interim measure while rolling out proper infrastructure.

The families of the two pupils will struggle to find closure. But it’s incumbent upon education authorities that no other family suffers the same fate.